Now that Council member David Catania (I-At Large) is running for mayor, it is more important than ever for Democrats to elect a candidate who cannot only win the Democratic primary, but who can also prevail in the general election.
I like Catania on a personal level, despite his public brashness, and I understand how significant it would be to have an openly gay mayor, but I am a loyal Democrat and I make no apologies for that. I strongly believe in the principles of the Democratic Party and I believe that candidates who support those principles are the best candidates to lead. While many D.C. Council members who have held one of the two seats reserved for the non-majority party have been Democrats who have changed their party to qualify for the seat, Catania was a Republican when he was first elected to the D.C. Council. He changed his party affiliation to independent due to homophobia in the national Republican Party. Ideologically, he is not my choice for mayor.
In past columns, I have used this space to acknowledge that I am undecided in the mayor’s race. While I am not going to endorse a candidate today, I will not pretend that the shadow campaign does not factor into my final decision. Truth be told, if there were no shadow campaign, I would have already made up my mind to support Mayor Vincent Gray. He is doing a good job running the city and his support for the LGBT community, specifically transgender people, has been groundbreaking. Though Gray fell just short of receiving the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club endorsement, the overwhelming support he received over the other mayoral candidates is a testament to his wonderful LGBT initiatives.
That said, specific details about the allegations against Mayor Gray that came out on March 10 during shadow campaign financier Jeffrey Thompson’s guilty plea make it difficult for me to support Mayor Gray. I’m not going as far as others and suggesting that he drop out of the race, but, at this point, to support him, I need to know that there is no smoking gun that proves Thompson’s allegations and that the overwhelming public perception is that Gray, and not Thompson, is telling the truth. Sadly, it seems unlikely that these conditions will be met.
These questions need to be answered in less than one week. Early voting starts on March 17 and by that time, Democrats may need to start lining up behind one candidate. I am going to stop short of saying who that candidate should be.
One saving grace is that this news is coming out now and not after the Democratic primary. Even as I have leaned toward supporting Mayor Gray, my greatest fear during this election season has always been that Gray would be implicated in the shadow campaign after the Democratic primary and Catania would use that to defeat him in November.
Democrats cannot afford to lose the mayoralty and no individual is bigger than the party. At some point, we may have to decide to put personalities and petty differences aside and, for the good of the D.C. Democratic Party, unite behind the candidate with the best chance of prevailing in the general election.
We are in a unique situation, not just because of game-changing allegations leveled against the mayor shortly before the Democratic primary, but also because, for the first time since home rule, a non-Democratic candidate has a legitimate chance to be elected mayor. A January Washington Post poll listed a potential race between Gray and Catania as a statistical dead heat before this latest bombshell. Most likely, if the poll were taken today, Catania would be in the lead.
I believe we should still hear Mayor Gray out and give him a chance to clear his name. However, while it may not be fair and it is against my legal training, the burden of proof has clearly shifted. Generally, the prosecution must prove a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the same rules don’t apply in the court of public opinion and if, in another week, Gray has not convinced a significant portion of the electorate that he is telling the truth, for the sake of the D.C. Democratic Party, it may be time to unite behind one of the other frontrunners.
Lateefah Williams’ biweekly column, ‘Life in the Intersection,’ focuses on the intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation. She is a D.C.-based political and LGBT activist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @lateefahwms.